Curse of the independent contractor | Simply Ranked

Plus: Crowds get crowdier, hot industry goss, BATB is free, and more.

Curse of the independent contractor | Simply Ranked
The definitive weekly ranking and analysis of all the skateboarding and other online things that I cannot stop consuming and how they make me feel, personally.

Curse of the independent contractor

Rank: -40,000
Mood: 🤕 💸

That’s what most professional action sports athletes are — independent contractors. Technically, this means they’re self-employed and, in most cases, not entitled to the benefits that accompany being a full-time employee of a company, no matter how long they’ve been on the payroll. And in sports as inherently dangerous as surfing or skateboarding, where athletes risking their health and safety to promote their sponsors is part of the job, whose teams they’re “on” but not in the way the brand’s CMO who receives health and dental coverage is “on,” certainly feels wrong if not outright exploitative.

A recent Intelligencer article by Adam Elder looks at the reality of healthcare in the action sports industry and how British surfer Tom Lowe got saddled with a $40,000 out-of-pocket medical bill after suffering an injury while surfing in Tahiti.

Several of Lowe’s ribs and one shoulder blade snapped instead, and he began bleeding internally. He was airlifted to a Tahitian hospital and spent the next several weeks in more pain than he’s ever felt before.

Then things got even worse. Lowe’s travel insurer denied his injury claim, and Lowe was stuck with a $40,000 out-of-pocket medical bill. “For a traveling surf dude, to get a $40,000 bill is pretty intimidating,” he says. “There’s no gray area — I just don’t have it…

Lowe charges some of the biggest and scariest waves on Earth, but few things make him as nervous as renegotiating his contract with Vans’ European team every two years. (Company executives did not respond to requests for comment.) The blue-chip action-sports brand, whose parent company, VF Corporation, boasts a $7.4 billion market cap, has sponsored him for most of his career. But Lowe is by no means rich from the arrangement… Still, Lowe said the company did step in after learning of his plight, for which he is grateful. “Vans, along with all of my sponsors, have contributed to my medical costs, even though they have no obligation to,” he said. “I know it’s not the same with all other brands, so I consider myself very lucky to be so well supported.”

That luck is part of the equation when it comes to getting healthcare costs covered for putting your body on the line for a brand is, frankly, gross. At the highest level, the line between getting a clip or photo a brand can slap its logo onto and grievous physical injury is slim. And not everyone is lucky. How many GoFundMe campaigns have you seen shared for PRO and AM skateboarders over the years? Tommy Sandoval and Victor Aceves immediately come to mind.

But even the biggest names in the business struggle to secure insurance separate from their sponsors due to the dangerous nature of their job.

“At the moment I don’t have any,” says Mark Suciu, Thrasher magazine’s 2021 Skater of the Year, the highest honor in skateboarding. “At the end of 2022 my plan expired. I reapplied and there was no communication from them.”

In the meantime, Suciu relies on a handful of physical therapists who specialize in skateboarding injuries. He too wishes brands took a bit more responsibility.

“It’d be great if sponsors paid for that, because they’re sanctioning us fucking our bodies up,” Suciu says. “But it’s cutthroat. We’re all trying so hard to be recognized, and if we don’t go for it, someone else will.” Suciu is quick to add that he feels well-compensated by his sponsors.

That’s the thing, if sponsors won’t or can’t afford to cover the costs of insuring their riders, that leaves them to seek out insurance on their own. Which, depending on where they live and how much they make, is either a burden or completely inaccessible.

It shouldn’t come down to the “luck” of having a sponsor who’s benevolent enough to dig into their pockets to cover the cost of their charge fucking themself up on their behalf, especially if they have pockets deep enough. Because when companies don’t invest in their rider’s health and well-being, the message sent is that they aren’t just cheap, replaceable labour but cheap, replaceable ad space.


Rank: Mmm, 1?
Mood: 👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫👭 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 👬 👫

Over the last number of years, it’s become clear that skateboarders have become increasingly comfortable skating within large crowds of people. As in, when the borders surrounding an obstacle, its runway, and landing are comprised of humans. These people-perimeters are generally made of like-minded skateboarders, enthusiastic enough about watching a session go down that they’ll risk their personal safety to witness it — the chance of boards and bodies flying into them is real and tested with nearly every attempt.

While this isn’t a new phenomenon by any means — with one standout moment being Andrew Reynolds’ iconic frontside flip in Vancouver, BC, on Go Skate Day back in 2009 — it does seem like the edges have been creeping in. That wall of flesh moving ever closer to the action.

Photo: Atiba Jefferson

From Copenhagen Open’s crowded-hallway approach to setting up its skate spot tour to Halloween Hellbomb’s absurd congestion that at times actively works against a skateboarder’s ability to land their trick, that distance between audience and performer continues to shrink. But why? Does the potential of someone riding away from a maneuver and barrelling through you and your friend group like a bowling ball add to the excitement? Is it some sort of perverted desire for danger and thrill-seeking à la J.G. Ballard’s Crash? Or maybe all of the time we spend looking at our phones has given us all an astigmatism and we need to get that close in order to see.

Whatever the case, you can’t argue that having hundreds of human beings screaming and writhing in various states of excitement and discomfort as they cordon off acts of high-level skateboarding doesn’t ramp up the emotion of a moment in person and on screen — my only suggestion: shinguards.

Hot industry goss, June 2023 edition

Rank: 2
Mood: 🤐

Via @le.syndrome on Instagram.

Skate industry gossip finding legs in reality thanks to an errant social media post? Now that’s the good stuff.

Big-name PRO skateboarders potentially jumping ship to another brand in a newsworthy way? It doesn’t feel like that happens too often these days.

That fun moment of expectation that fans stew in until an official announcement is made? What a nice feeling.

Does that mean those skateboarders will have new footage coming soon to accompany their welcome to the team? That’d be nice.

And, like, how soon?


Rank: 1
Mood: 😌

Again, Primitive Skateboards continues to excel at building content out of their existing content. “Behind the Missions” are another slickly produced series that takes the viewer, well, behind the missions that went into making the full-length Primitive video Define. The latest episode focuses on Carlos Ribeiro. In it are some fun and candid talking heads moments, the establishment of a rather wholesome and motivating friendship between Ribeiro and Miles Silvas, and some interesting insight into the construction of a high-level video part.

What stood out the most is that before the team officially started filming for Define, Ribeiro went for dinner with Primitive filmers Alan Hannon and Eric Iwakura, who said they wanted him to have the last part in the video. Deciding “curtains” before you’ve even started collecting footage seems a little backward, but it clearly wasn’t the wrong decision, as Ribeiro does close out the video in astounding fashion. But, even more backwards is that Ribeiro says he decided to switch things up and made an effort to get most of his “enders” at the beginning of the filming process, something that one would generally think you’d leave until the end, given they’re likely the hardest and most dangerous tricks to attempt.

It’s only when his ender-ender gets the cover of Thrasher does he attempt to get an ender-ender-ender towards the… end of the team’s allotted filming time. He winds up doing quite a number on his ankle and is unable to continue filming, which means his strategy both worked for and against him since he already had enough “enders” and overall footage to flesh out a top-tier video part despite the injury, but had he not gotten those enders so early, perhaps they wouldn’t have become covers so soon and needed to be one-upped.


BATB is… free?

Rank: 13
Mood: 🕊

On Wednesday, The Berrics released a teaser for “Battle At The Berrics 13: Freedom.” What “Freedom” means as a theme is still unclear. Previously, their premier event had themes like “Pros vs. Joes,” the cheery nationalism of “Us vs. Them,” and whatever the giant, crumbling bracket of BATB 12 was supposed to be. Those mostly make sense. But “Freedom?” I guess we’ll have to wait to get a better idea of what that means.1

However, if I were to guess, I’d say there are a few possible options:

  • All flatground tricks are allowed, including no-complys, handplants, and manuals.
  • The games are no longer flatground-specific; all obstacles are viable.
  • The contest takes a serious nationalist bent; the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played before each game, and the pledge of allegiance is required to be taken by each contestant.
  • The winner of the tournament gets their debilitating healthcare debt paid for.
  • Berra shows the winner of the tournament how to “go clear.”

Something to consider: As my Twitter desktop app struggled with basic functionality and Google continued to drive me in circles as I did even cursory-level research for this week’s newsletter, I started repeating to myself, almost as if singing a song, it’s the end of the useful internet, this is the end of the useful internet.

Good thing: Kevin “Spanky” Long lays out “The Rules of Skateboarding” for Village Psychic.

Another good thing: This There ad.

A rare thing: A meme that originated in the skateboarding world that not only breaks through to the general public but maintains staying power even years later.

The last good thing on Twitter: this TikTok video.

Until next week… if you can, go on a long bike ride. Get lost. Not so lost that you’re in trouble, but lost enough that you can still enjoy the scenery. Maybe you stumble across a new cafe that makes a truly fantastic scone. You might discover a patch of berry bushes to return to with a bucket in tow. Who knows, you could even meet a new friend or lover when someone notices you looking around confused but smiling and offers guidance as the sun warms the world around you.

I wrote a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I will keep posting about it at the end of the newsletter for the foreseeable future. Apologies. You can pre-order Right, Down + Circle now from your favourite local bookshop, my publisher ECW Press, or all of the usual devils (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). I think you might like it.

  1. Shortly before posting this week’s newsletter, The Berrics uploaded a video announcing the BATB 13 brackets, and the lineup is pretty sick, tbh.